Sometimes meeting the need for sleep calls for mental and emotional flexibility.
Airlines cancel flights. You end up sleeping on the floor of an airport lounge.
Sometimes you run over something and that something puts a hole in your gas tank. You end up having to sleep on the side of a lonely country road because there’s no cell reception and you’ve run out of gas. You’re waiting to set out into the morning when it gets light.
Sometimes air conditioning goes out. Sometimes when it does you’re in the middle of summer in a hot desert town. You’re trying to sleep when it’s over 100 degrees at night. The asphalt jungle that is Phoenix, Arizona, USA holds all the heat in.
Lots of things can happen when you’re driving. Sometimes it’s snow that hems you in. Sometimes it’s a typhoon.
Sometimes you have to wait at the hospital because someone you care about is in a very long surgery. While you’re waiting, you might as well be sleeping.
Sometimes after a long, tiring day, when you’re driving at night, you catch yourself drifting toward the middle of the road into oncoming traffic. You know you’d be better off if you could catch a few winks of sleep. You’d be a much safer driver.
You may or may not be a super sleeper. Either way, when you meet with challenging circumstances you need to keep in mind the five Fundamentals of Sleeping.
Address these five issues and you’re going to maximize your sleeping potential no matter what the situation.
They’re worth memorizing.
Taken together, they spell out TRIMS. By learning what the five fundamentals are and addressing them when you find yourself in a sleep-related predicament, you’re going to trim your level of exhaustion. The five fundamentals are going to trim the amount of time you’re going to have to catch up on sleep when you have to meet up with challenging circumstances. They’re going to trim the risk you’ll have a serious accident due to sleep deprivation. They’ll trim the chances you’ll get sick from a weakened immune system.
And so on.
TRIMS. Time. Rest. Interruptions. Mind. Safety. TRIMS.
Sleep is a fundamental need
In 1943 Abraham Maslow published the Hierarchy of Needs in a psychology journal. The theory elegantly described how humans have a blend of needs, both spiritual and material.
The psychologist arranged the needs in a pyramid. At the bottom, the most basic needs like food, water and sleep needed to be the first ones fulfilled. Without the basic needs met, higher-level needs couldn’t be addressed.
No matter the level of the need, sometimes you have to be flexible in order to survive and prosper.
Sometimes you have to eat foods you’re not used to eating.
Sometimes you have to get water from sources you’re not used to.
Sometimes meeting the need for security calls for thinking creatively.
Moving up the pyramid, for social needs, sometimes you have to speak to people you’re not used to speaking to.
Circumstances change for one reason or another.
When they do, you need to adjust to the changes. You have to be as flexible as you can in order to meet your needs.
In the United States of Anxiety, author Jen Lancaster uses Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs as a framework to determine what needs are more important than others. She notes things like “fashion” and “a desire for fame” aren’t included in the hierarchy.
The elements of the pyramid aren’t called “basic needs” for nothing; they’re basic to your existence.
Sometimes you’re not going to have your favorite pillow, your special mattress or other sleep gear.
T = Time
Everybody needs enough time to sleep. There’s no valid way to compress it. It can’t be hurried.
What you can do is do it more efficiently.
Long term, if you don’t get enough sleep you end up with a sleep deficit.
That being said, everybody needs a different amount of sleep. The amount you need is dependent on your personal circumstances.
Physical strain can mean you’re going to need longer to rest and recuperate.
Battling a cold or infection can tax your body’s ability to sleep.
You want your body to be able to do this. Illness is a serious matter.
Conversely, a period of sound, solid sleep can result in feeling refreshed in a relatively short period of time.
The amount of time spent in rest and recuperation can be helped along by sleeping in a cool place and, perhaps, by earthing. Good nutrition also plays a role too. While studies have been done on all of these influences on the body’s ability to recuperate, there’s not a method you can use to say, definitively, that this amount of time will yield this kind of result.
To complicate things, your perception of time can be off. You can think you’re not sleeping but actually be dreaming that you’re not sleeping.
It’s most useful, therefore, to consider the time spent laying down and resting as the same as time spent sleeping. Do your best to rest and relax. Avoid looking at a phone or watch.
No matter what, aim for at least seven hours of rest in a 24-hour period if your goal is to be adequate mentally and physically.
Sometimes that seven hours will have to be divided up in increments. Sometimes it can be contiguous.
It is what it is. It’s a good goal to start with, though, as they say in car commercials, your mileage may vary.
You can aim for more sleep, but it might be more reasonable to aim for more sleep under better circumstances.
Be strict with yourself: at least seven hours. No less.
This can be delayed sometimes but it eventually has to be met.
R = Relaxing, rest
Sleep is a period of time when your body is relaxing. A definition of the word sleep is: to take the rest afforded by a suspension of voluntary bodily functions and the natural suspension, complete or partial, of consciousness.
To rest you must relax. If anything besides rest is more fundamental to sleep it’s hard to tell what it might be.
This means that in order to sleep the best you possibly can in challenging circumstances, you need to relax, to get comfortable.
You need to relax no matter what the reason for the difficulty is.
If you’re sleeping on a pull-out sofa and the bar down the middle is preventing you from fully relaxing, you need to deal with it.
If you feel too pasty and uncomfortable to sleep from being on a flight for the last 36 hours, you need to deal with it.
If you can’t breathe easily and that’s keeping you from relaxing, you need to deal with it.
If you’re worried about money and that has you emotionally tied up, you need to deal with it.
If you’re fighting with your spouse and a million thoughts are going through your head, you need to deal with it.
If your clothes are tight and binding, that’s going to affect your ability to relax. You need to deal with it because sleeping requires you relax.
Most self-help advice at this point talks about meditation or something like that. That’s respectable, solid advice for a lot of people but it’s not going to work for everyone. What’s needed depends on the person and the situation.
If you’ve been working hard all day doing things you don’t particularly enjoy, maybe spending 10 minutes having fun might be just the thing to help you get a good night of sleep.
If you’re worried about how you’re going to pay for your college tuition, maybe making a list of ways you can make some extra money would help you relax. Maybe it would be making a to-do list including ways companies have messed up on the way they’ve been automatically billing you. Maybe it would be learning how to use a budgeting system.
A little self-diagnosing is called for here.
If you know you’re deficient in your ability to rest, you can take steps to mitigate it.
If you’re worried about things that are outside of your control, maybe try journaling about it; maybe pray the Serenity Prayer.
Maybe you might need a drink, though not to get drunk. Getting drunk and going to bed doesn’t help. Alcohol interferes with sleep. It also affects how much REM your brain uses. If you don’t really have a problem with addiction, however, maybe one drink might help you relax. We associate drinking with good times and fun. In this case, one drink might help.
Rest. Relax. It’s vital.
I = Interruptions
You need to not be interrupted when you’re trying to sleep.
You need to stop your smartphone from waking you up. The only interruption you might want to allow is the alarm letting you know when it’s time for you to get up.
You need to stop paying attention to the announcements when you’re sleeping at the bus station, at least when you’re trying to rest. Ideally, if you have to listen to any announcements that might come over, you’re going to have a companion who can listen for you. Sometimes your subconscious can listen to them for you, but that can be difficult to rely on. When it matters, it’s best not to even try.
If you’re a night-shift worker, you need to not have to answer the door when knocks on it. You need your full, uninterrupted sleep.
This is one of the fundamentals because being able to go into a period of REM sleep is important for learning, cognition and your brain’s basic housekeeping.
No matter the situation, try to keep your need for uninterrupted sleep in mind. Unplug the phone. Let people know you don’t want to be interrupted. Whatever it takes: minimize or negate the interruptions to your sleep.
Sometimes the person you need to protect yourself from interrupting your sleep is yourself.
Have an alarm clock you can trust. Don’t check your phone every half hour to see what time it is. Put the smartphone somewhere else besides your bedroom.
Sometimes this isn’t a concern, but if you’re trying to sleep in challenging circumstances it usually is.
M = Mind
You can be relaxed, relatively worry-free, but your mind can be racing. You can be mulling over what someone said to you during the day. You can be imagining a trip you’re going on, very excited. You can be thinking about a relationship you’re in.
These thoughts can allow you to drift off to Dreamland. Sometimes they don’t. Sometimes they lead to another scenario. You need to get your mind to stop. There’s not an off switch, unfortunately.
Sometimes it can be challenging to accomplish this.
What needed is a way to stop your mind from churning.
Pray the rosary or use prayer beads.
Conjugate verbs in the foreign language you’re studying.
Do math problems in your head.
Contemplate something you find boring.
Make lists in your mind about the things you have to be grateful for.
Imagine yourself on a beach or in another place you like to be in.
Some academic writing is so dull that it’s difficult to stay away. Read things like that.
These things might seem boring to you. Boring, in this case, is good. The idea isn’t to entertain yourself or do anything productive beyond sleeping. Sleeping is productive enough.
Deciding whether it’s a churning mind or plain old stress that’s bothering you worse can be hard to do.
In the end, it doesn’t matter. Pay attention to the idea that you have to relax and to the idea that your mind needs to slow down.
Do both. Both are fundamental to sleep.
S = Safety
It can be assumed if you’re safe, you’re going to relax.
That’s not necessarily true. You can be perfectly safe and be unable to relax for one reason or another.
Yet, actually being safe is important enough to include as part of our acronym.
Sleeping can make you vulnerable. You can be assaulted or murdered while you’re asleep. Depending on the attack, you can fight back when you wake up, but not necessarily so.
Maybe you can have someone you trust watch over you while you sleep to make sure you remain safe.
Maybe you can sleep in an area where people won’t find you.
Maybe you can spend the money on a hotel room.
Maybe you can pull off to the side of the road, and partly roll down your windows so there’s air circulating.
When you’re sleeping, you want to be as safe as possible. Include safety in your plans.
How to use the fundamentals of sleep.
When you’re coming up on a challenging sleep session, use the basics to squelch sleep problems before they happen. Nip them in the bud. Plan for your answer to the questions they bring up in your mind.
Have I allowed enough time to sleep?
Am I going to be able to rest?
Will this place allow me to be free of interruption when I’m trying to sleep?
What will I do when my mind keeps churning?
Will I be physically and emotionally safe here?
Keeping the five fundamentals as a baseline will allow you to bounce back from a challenging situation and make the best of any situation.
For further reading:
Sleep less at night and stay healthy
Here are some secrets to sleeping near a noisy, busy street
What are the 5 easiest things you can do to get more restorative sleep?
Move that mattress on the floor already!
The stop overthinking at bedtime 2-step
James Cobb, RN, MSN, is an emergency department nurse and the founder of the Dream Recovery System. His goal is to provide his readers with simple, actionable ways to improve their health and maximize their quality of life.
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